## Tuesday, December 27, 2016

### Interstellar delivers truth bombs

Early on in the movie Interstellar there are two important lessons about what makes a society fail (or succeed), both delivered in the parent-teacher conference that Cooper attends.

Lesson one: don't underestimate the power of engineering (and science)

Lesson two: beware of those who would rewrite the truth

(Excerpts from the novelization of the movie by Greg Keyes. No, I'm not a nerd. Ok, I am.)

Andrew Rader points out some problems with the movie:

The main problem was also pointed out by Kip Thorne in The Science of Interstellar: that fighting the blight on Earth would make a lot more sense than going to a different planet.

Thorne also raises the problem of orbital mechanics in chapter 7 of the book:

and proposes a few speculative mechanisms to get the necessary changes in velocity from gravity assists. Note that there are two decelerations one of $c/3$ and one of $c/4$ for a total speed change of  $7c/12$ or $1.75\times 10^{8}$ m/s. Returning to the Endurance requires an increase in speed of $1.75\times 10^{8}$ m/s as well.

To see the size of the problem, let's say they take 500 seconds (8 minutes and 20 seconds) to do each maneuver (while the rest of the Universe ages significantly) and the Ranger's mass is 2 metric tons (for simplicity, we'll assume that the water taken in on the planet makes up for the loss of Dr. Doyle to stupidity, indiscipline, and lack of planning). If we assume constant thrust for simplicity, assume away all friction and ignore the propellant mass loss (yay, infinite specific impulse!), the thrust needed for each maneuver is $7 \times 10^8$ Newton or about the same as 1077 SpaceX Merlin engines (averaging their atmosphere and vacuum thrust to 650 kN). Since there's propellant mass loss, let's say we "only" need the equivalent of 900 Merlin engines. So, yes, only a gravity assist would do.

Yes, it's an oversimplification, but didn't feel like solving the Tsiolkovsky equation. Hence the drop from 1077 to 900 engines. (That's still equivalent to 100 Falcon 9 rockets.) By the way, Thorne appears unconvinced of the feasibility of those gravity assists and hence of the feasibility of whole expedition to Miller's planet. But at least they tried to be accurate with some science in the movie.

Oh, and speaking of nerds:

## Monday, December 26, 2016

The Supreme Dark Lord of the Evil Legion of Evil wrote a post about the qualitative differences between Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs) Very High IQ (VHIQ) persons and Ultra High IQ (UHIQ) persons.

Speaking from my position in the fat part of the distribution, this qualitative difference looks a bit like an unnecessary threshold. Also, the comments on the post appear to be from very smart people, who nevertheless seem unaware of the basics of performance measurement, so: way-to-go MBA training!

On to the main point:

Since intelligence is something one has no control over, being determined mostly by factors of genetics and early childhood environment, it's strange to be proud of it. As a person of reasonable, compact stature, I noticed a similar behavior in tall people who were proud of being tall. It's not something you achieve; therefore it's nothing to be proud of. Thankful, maybe.

Furthermore, there's a measurement problem, once one moves away from pattern-matching and response speed tests (I used to think that psychometrics was put in the world to make phrenology look good; then I realized it happened by accident) and into real-world outcomes, which depend on a lot more than raw brain power, for example, observable outcomes depend on:
• The opportunities to use that brain power, and the fields in which it's used.
• The motivation to use it, and the goals to be achieved.
• The skills and knowledge, including thinking skill (which is separate from intelligence in the same way that competitive weightlifting skill is separate from raw physical force) and a can-do attitude towards thinking.
• Outside factors which distort the observables; they can be random events (what engineers call 'noise') or they can be environment biases.
So, from my position in the fat part of the distribution, but standing on the intellectual (and experimental) shoulders of much smarter others, here are VD's points (in blue) with my comments:

"VHIQ inclines towards binary either/or thinking and taking sides. UHIQ inclines towards probabilistic thinking and balancing between contradictory possibilities."

Maybe. This reads a lot more like differences as to when the mental decision trees are pruned rather than the binary/continuous difference (not just probabilistic, also threshold-thinking on continuous quantities).

Raw power may make a difference as to how many branches can be considered and how far each branch can be developed for any given problem, but then the boundary between VHIQ and UHIQ would be fuzzy,  porous, and contingent on the problem; not a situation conducive to qualitative differences.

"VHIQ seeks understanding towards application or justification, UHIQ seeks understanding towards holistic understanding."

Different tools for different objectives, I would think.

Certain problems (most engineering problems, thankfully) can be decomposed and processed in ever more cohesive and less coupled chunks which are processed separately and integrated hierarchically. Other problems require holistic understanding of emergent properties (most large-scale systems formed by similar small units communicating among them, aka complex systems) and a completely different mindset. (Here's an example of the two mindsets applied to economics.)

Other than that, practice with a field of knowledge will eventually lead to a holistic understanding of that field, though raw brain power makes that easier.

"VHIQ refines the original thought of others, UHIQ synthesizes multiple original thoughts."

Conceptually different, but in essence the same response as the previous one: what to do depends on the purpose of the doing.

"VHIQ rationalizes logical conclusions, UHIQ accepts logical conclusions. This is ironic because VHIQ considers itself to be highly logical, UHIQ considers itself to be investigative."

Maybe it's my observation sample, but I don't have this experience (with other people); the people I notice rationalizing [wrong] things tend to be non-high-IQ (when in good faith) or are high-IQ  but are doing it knowingly, in response to outside incentives (in bad faith, in other words).

"VHIQ recognizes the truths in the works of the great thinkers of the past and applies them. UHIQ recognizes the flaws in the thinking of the great thinkers of the past and explores them."

Maybe this is field-dependent, and in the fields I'm exposed to, it's a matter of knowledge and goal stratification.

"VHIQ usually spots logical flaws in an argument. UHIQ usually senses them."

This difference is a matter of practice, therefore differences in motivation (say, in curiosity) will be more important than differences in raw intellect. This is the case for almost all 'intuitive' or 'natural' skills, other than proprioperception and motion control. And even then, gym n00bs spend several minutes placing their feet for each deadlift attempt, skilled powerlifters' feet fall in place as soon as they enter the lifting platform.

It's true that mental capacity will put a limit on how fast and how far this 'intuitiveness' in skill development can go, but motivation, training, and opportunity differences will spread out any differences that separate VHIQ from UHIQ.

"VHIQ enjoys pedantry. UHIQ hates it. Both are capable of utilizing it at will."

I would venture that it's a continuous scale, starting at about one standard deviation below the mean, and negatively correlated with IQ. As for utilizing pedantry at will, this seems to be more of an operational decision, as when people who 'love science' (but don't learn any) start talking down to engineers and get a 'how many Joule in a kilowatt-hour?' question in return, for example.

For example, it's usually the people who can't recognize the period of a music piece by the music alone that make a big deal of correcting someone who says 'Bach' with 'Johann Sebastian Bach.' Musicologists, good and very good, only become pedantic to wave off the poseurs. So I'd venture that VHIQ might be more exposed to poseurs than UHIQ and therefore come across as more pedantic (which they are, in a small way, given their lower IQ and the aforementioned negative correlation) than the UHIQ.

"VHIQ is uncomfortable with chaos and seeks to impose order on it, even if none exists. UHIQ is comfortable with chaos and seeks to recognize patterns in it."

Different fields of endeavor have different requirements. Intelligence is, among other things, and with other things (motivation, skills, opportunities, environmental factors), the ability to adapt to and if needed change the environment and the field of endeavor.

"VHIQ is spergey and egocentric. UHIQ is holistic and solipsistic."

I've never observed this, so I can't comment; then again, I'm not a people person so it could well be true and hard to spot from the fat part of the curve.

"VHIQ will die on a conceptual hill. UHIQ surrenders at the first reasonable show of force."
"VHIQ attempts to rationalize its errors. UHIQ sees no point in hesitating to admit them."
"VHIQ seeks to prove the correctness of its case. UHIQ doesn't believe in the legitimacy of the jury."
"VHIQ is competitive. UHIQ doesn't keep score."

(These four are pairwise different but my response to all is the same.)

All four statements above appear to me as orthogonal to differences in raw brain power, as they can be seen at all levels of intelligence down to the middle of the curve; I'd place them in a two-dimensional space of (pragmatic-pigheaded x internally-externally motivated), but that's probably already been done better by some psychometrician.

This is reminiscent of the chapter on nerds in The Inmates are Running The Asylum, which summarizes nerds as more interested in being right than being successful. That's not because they're stupid, but rather a learned attitude (and some personality differences, which aren't intelligence differences).

"VHIQ believes in the unique power of SCIENCE. UHIQ sees science as a conceptual framework of limited utility."

People who understand science, as opposed to people who 'love science' (as long as they don't have to learn any) or great scientists [in their own minds, if no one else's], treat science as a collection of best models and a method for finding better models. This is a matter of knowledge rather than raw brain power, though more raw brain power makes acquiring and expressing this knowledge easier.

It's possible that some of VHIQ are more likely than UHIQ to be selected by certain institutional designs for compliance with a particular view of science and that impedes their understanding of science as I just defined it; however, this would be a case of environment (incentives) not a consequence of intelligence itself. Kind of a "A-grade managers hire A-grade employees, B-grade managers hire C-grade employees" survival rule for mediocrities.

"VHIQ seeks to rank and order things. UHIQ seeks to recognize and articulate concepts."

Orders are a subset of networks and to our best understanding of how people recognize and process concepts they do so by fitting them into networks of other concepts. So, this is again a matter of degree, though when networks are involved, all sorts of emergent behavior (what could pass for creativity or super-fast reasoning) can happen that are hard to predict.

"VHIQ asks "how can this be used?" UHIQ asks "what does this mean?""

Engineers vs scientists of all intelligence levels (well, at least those above the mean) exhibit this difference in thinking goals. Since they do so at all intelligence levels, this has a significant orthogonality to the IQ dimension.

Inasmuch as there's a correlation it may come from the mental power requirements of answering questions of meaning rather than doing something, but both questions are present in children before the education system takes away their will to think, so this would be an environmental influence, more than a difference in underlying abilities needed, driving the choice of problems to work in.

So, okay it may be that from my position in the scale I can't see the existing differences, but it appears to me that performance measurement theory has a pretty good explanation for most of these points, and it doesn't require too much smarts to understand.

Good for me, otherwise I'd have to go for a long walk to think about it. π

- - - - -

Vox Day's response concurs [with his reading of my penultimate paragraph to mean] that I just don't have what it takes to understand really intelligent people. π

(That's not what that paragraph means.)

## Wednesday, December 21, 2016

### Geeking out midweek

π Via Watts Up With That, I learned that some mentally ill people in California are talking about secession from the rest of the US (which a lot of people in the rest of the US would support wholeheartedly). WUWT mentions the electrical problem of secession, which I decided to take a little further by computing the shortfall in dispatchable capacity:

(Click for larger, as usual.) Wind and solar are non-dispatchable, so their production needs to have a back-up of slack dispatchable power; given that California imported about 1/3 of its electricity last year, it's reasonable to assume that the required slack capacity isn't available in-state.

The rest is basic arithmetic, which hasn't stopped people from asking how to go from a yearly consumption of 126.4 TWh to a capacity shortfall of 15 GW (14.4 and change, but power plants tend to have 1 GW units; well, big, Rankine cycle-based power plants do).

π I like to wear sciency t-shirts to the gym and these are my two newest,

but the one on the right is already outdated, as element 118, Oganesson has been added to the periodic table and is a noble gas (an element with a full complement of electrons in its outer orbital layer):

π Alton Brown has a new book, EveryDayCook, with some science in it as usual. I find that cooking is a very important skill to have and a great way to introduce kids to science. So, naturally, almost all families with children I know either don't cook at all or keep the kids out of the kitchen. Alas.

Just got the book, so can't say much about it, but if Alton Brown's previous books (and television show) are anything to go by, go buy it. Check out AB's podcast too.

πΉ Destin "Smarter Every Day" Sandlin likes opals (a type of semi-precious stone) and takes his viewers to Australia to see how they are mined:

πΊ The remake of MacGyver isn't as good as the original (no surprise there, I guess): while the science is as bad as it ever was (it was never good), there's a lot more stupidity (things happen that a 6-year-old would know to avoid), violence (Robert Dean Anderson's MacGyver was averse to solving problems with it), and preachiness (there was a bit in the old one, too).

I still like the general idea of MacGyver, that of solving problems with science (STEM, really) and creative thinking. That's why I give MacGyver a pass on most of the problems, because the attitude is right: thinking and STEM are what makes humans advance as a species.

Also, the self-description of the new MacGyver, when he met the hacker (I guess they needed one in 2016) was spot-on: "you hack computers, I hack everything else."

πΆI like to take long walks to think, so I took a 25 km one in San Francisco last weekend:

π  Whomever does the social media for Los Alamos National Laboratory posted this shameful tweet (the image is the problem; see if you can figure it out before reading further):

And my comment (which, of course didn't get a response, since whomever does their social media probably doesn't understand science beyond the level of a kindergartener):
And that fireball, so far outside the atmosphere, what causes it, @LosAlamosNatLab? Seriously, I literally can't even! #facepalm π±π‘
The fireball heat is caused by compression of the atmosphere in front of the meteor, then air friction creates the tail by slowing some of the burning material. It's that $PV=nRT$ thingamaboyle, when the pressure $P$ gets very high too fast for the volume $V$ to change (particularly in front of objects traveling much faster than the speed of sound), the temperature $T$ has to get very high to balance out the equation, since number of moles $n$ doesn't change and $R$ is a constant. Science. It works.

It's not inconsistent behavior to upbraid the LANL and The Science Channel for their bad science in social media while giving MacGyver a pass. MacGyver is a fiction television show; the LANL and The Science Channel are (or should be) serious institutions with an educational mission.

π± Puzzle of the week (from a Twitter rathole so I have no way to credit): find "DOG"

(Yes, it's just a matter of exhaustive search, but this has been fiendishly well-designed, to maximize the need for searching. Such design effort just to thwart intelligent searches is worthy of mention.)

## Wednesday, December 14, 2016

### Love of science and depth of knowledge

For a successful modern society, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Technology cannot be fooled. -- Adapted by JCS from Richard Feynman's final sentence in his appendix to the Report of the PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

Suppose someone says "I love French [the language]." You'd probably assume they spoke French. If someone says "I love skiing," you'd probably assume they can ski; if someone says they "love science," well, that's a bit more complicated.

In fact, if people "loved French" like they "love science," most of them wouldn't be able to translate "Oui."

And that's a problem on three different levels:

1. At the most basic level, pretending to like science but with no interest in learning any (which is what "I love science" people do) creates a disconnect between words and reality. That disconnect has been thoroughly exploited by publicity-seeking celebrities, opportunistic politicians, and greedy stem-o-preneurs to advance their own agendas.

2. Past this basic 'branding/image-driven' level, we find that those who benefit from a distortion of the meaning of science (STEM, really) and those who are afraid their pretense will be exposed actually act against the advancement of science (STEM, really), using arguments more suited to politics ("x percent of scientists believe that..." as if science was a matter of votes) or authoritarian autocracies.

3. But at a very deep level, this "I love science" pretense corrupts the very idea of actually knowing or understanding something, which is essential to the development (and maintenance) of our technological-dependent society.

A previous blog post has touched on this idea, but we'll elaborate on it here, with some implications.

The figure at the top describes four levels of knowledge, roughly separated by their real-world implications; a big problem with the "I love science" crowd is that they act as if the differences between these levels have no real world implications, which they do. From top to bottom:

Ignorance, particularly when combined with obliviousness, can be funny but can also be exasperating. I make some hay from media ignorance in a number of posts (one, two, three), and YouTubers Thunderf00t and EEVblog have fun debunking nonsense that's based on exploiting this ignorance.

But ignorance of science persists, and persists in people who "love science," mostly because their interlocutors are not willing to ask questions. Imagine that someone said they love French; we could then say "tu parles FranΓ§ais, alors?" The people who love French like they "love science" will hear gibberish. This would be an immediate "poseur" alarm; but most people who would do it for French won't ask these questions for science.

(One may even be called anti-social for asking sciencey things to someone who "loves science.")

A passing familiarity with the topic can be a dangerous social trap. As the joke goes, these are the people who believe they can argue successfully with an expert based on having heard a TED talk on the subject while cycling at the gym. It's particularly dangerous when this passing familiarity is acquired by reading popularization tomes created by popularizers (instead of people working in the field).

The problem with passing familiarity is that most people tend to overestimate the reach of their familiarity, mistaking the recognition of sentences for actual understanding of those sentences. In our continuing French example, this would be the case of someone who had some French lessons decades ago and watches French movies with subtitles but can't do much more than ask people in France if they speak English.

In STEM this is a complicated level, since there are people who have a reasonable qualitative understanding of the issues without being able to actually solve technical problems (of any complexity), while there are others who follow the Mythbusters' "science as big booms" or focus on the scientists rather than the science.

There's a second-order effect in this problem, which comes from the importance of quantitative thinking in STEM. Many people have some sort of numerophobia: they resist numerical thinking for whatever reason. Perhaps insecurity, perhaps bad experiences with the educational system. But for STEM, once we're past the basics, numbers matter. Numbers become all that matters.

(There's an interesting case of this familiarity-level overreach in Business Management [as a discipline]: many people who have a vague familiarity with business speak think that they actually know business material. Some of them say things as ignorant as "management is just common sense," at which point I ask them to value an option or process some market research data using common sense.)

Operational knowledge is the level at which most people who actually know something operate. For our French example, that would be a person who can communicate like a French person (talk with French people, watch French-language movies and TV shows, write blog posts in French, read French books).

In STEM this level is easy to separate from the passing familiarity (and to divide into sub-levels) by using actual applications. In the chart at the top of the post, computing the angular speed of the axles of a differential is a simple, high-school level Physics question; the kind of thing engineering students have to know how to do in their freshman year.

I have in the past suggested screening social interactions using simple questions, sometimes as simple as asking for basic unit conversion (how many Joule in a kilowatt-hour?) sometimes with a problem or two:

A deep understanding of the field is something most people, including those who have operational knowledge, have no need for. Continuing with the French example, this would be the case of someone who creates crossword puzzles for Le Monde, copyedits literature tomes in French, and generally argues fancy matters of language.

In STEM these tend to be the Research and Development departments, the research scientists, the design engineers, the specialized technical consultants. In other words, the people who create the future of our technological society.

(At this point one feels obliged to note that people with a deep understanding of STEM tend to be the most reviled in most social environment: cf. definitions for nerd and geek.)

What is both ironic and dangerous is that (as indicated in the chart at the top) the number of people in each level of knowledge decreases with increasing knowledge, but (not indicated in the chart) the level of confidence these same people have in their statements about STEM doesn't. I believe that this is a definite change relative to a few decades ago, and not a change for the better.

It appears that the cost of increasing the popularity of "loving science" was the loss of meaning of "knowing science" (STEM, really). This is a dangerous trend in a technology-dependent society.

## Friday, December 9, 2016

### A bunch of nonsense, obviously. But why does it persist?

Science, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the human species, in its ever-increasing scientific knowledge and broad diffusion of said knowled... wait, that's not right.

A lot of what passes for "science" in the public arena is complete nonsense. Pure, unadulterated bovine feces, metaphorically speaking, if one may be so bold. And one may be so bold, because the nonsense is bold: boldface bald-faced lying to the general public, promoted by those who know nothing to those who know little for the benefit of those who know the right people...

Thunderf00t has posted a couple of more-or-less sciencey videos (why not do things a little more precisely, I ask...? Patreon him some moolah, maybe he'll be able to afford a haircut), one on the EM drive and one on spinning solar cones nonsense:

As for the EM drive, I like Lubos Motl's approach better (emphasis added):
I am sorry but if this stuff was allowed to be published in a journal, it only means that aside from the 7 men listed as co-authors, there exists at least one additional imbecile who was hired as a "referee". So there are at least 8 imbeciles in the world. What a profound discovery. In reality, there are surely billions.
The spinning solar cones nonsense is nonsensical, and TF does a reasonable job of ridiculing it. It does raise the question, though, of why this nonsense keeps coming, and why it keeps coming from the alternative energy crowd. I think I can venture a guess or two, having interacted with a large number of IGORs whose attitude to knowledge ratio approaches infinite.

Why the nonsense keeps coming: because it's profitable for those purveying it.

Why in the alternative energy crowd: because most people who understand energy production and transmission avoid this crowd like the plague (it being filled with IGORs), unless they profit from the crowd's ignorance; so the crowd is composed mostly of well-meaning ignoramuses and con artists exploiting their ignorance.

As an aside, there are some very effective solar-powered electricity production facilities. They are called hydroelectric dams. (What? You didn't know that the Sun powers the water cycle on Earth?) Personally, I am ambivalent about these dams, as their reservoirs destroy usable land but also create large artificial lakes for recreational boating.

Most of the alternative energy crowd wants to do something to save the environment (laudable, that), but they don't know -- and don't want to learn -- engineering and science (not so laudable, that), and therefore fall victim to the publicity-seeking, ignorant statements of uneducated celebrities, opportunistic politicians, and greedy eco-preneurs.

One might surmise that falling victim is not their fault, but in fact they don't just fall victim, they jump in and call for more victimization. (I believe there are some clubs in San Francisco SoMa that cater to a similar set of preferences.)

If "communications studies" graduate Bob talks over Nina the electrical engineer when she tries to explain how wind generation without efficient storage isn't a practical source of energy, that kind of arrogant ignorance is definitely Bob's fault.

(Nina looks like MIT Materials Engineering professor Donald Sadoway in this video:

.)

When Bob's retort to Nina's question "how many Joule in a kilowatt-hour?" is to call Nina a nerd and accuse her of destroying the planet (with 6th-grade science questions, apparently), that's definitely Bob's fault.

I don't pity the Bobs (or IGORs) of this world, as their ignorant arrogance is their fault. I pity those who have to live in places where the ignorant arrogance of the Bobs and IGORs is exploited by uneducated celebrities, opportunistic politicians, and greedy eco-preneurs, to get publicity, political power, and unearned money, all at the expense of the general public.

It's almost as if large numbers of ignorant arrogant people were a detriment to technologically advanced societies.

Oops… [in Australian]

## Wednesday, December 7, 2016

### Collected midweek geekery

π Zero Hedge reposts an article about unemployment in the age of robots: coming for you in five years. Too optimistic regarding robots, but a lot of process reengineering has been going on, motivated by, among other things, the increasing cost of labor and the low cost of borrowing money for capital investment. I think 10-15 years is a better estimate than 5 years, at least for "millions of american jobs" to be at risk.

π Fun things you find in NOAA charts: the water off the coast of Southern California seems to be a bit of a munitions dumping ground...  nothing to see here, just "chemical munitions dumping ground, disused." Nice to know it's disused; I'm sure chemical munitions are really stable over decades and their casings not subject to corrosion in constantly moving salt water... oh, wait.

(Those are the beaches that appear in lots of movies and TV shows.)

π Super-capacitors are coming. Well, there's another discrete improvement in those super-capacitors, at least. These are storage devices that don't convert the electrical energy into another form (say chemical for batteries), but rather store it directly as an electric field between two electrodes separated by a dielectric. This makes for a very quick charge and much better roundtrip efficiency after several discharge cycles. Read the paper here (you may need to go through a public library proxy.)

π Congratulations to the United Launch Alliance for another successful launch, this one a spy mind control communication satellite for the military-industrial-intelligence complex:

π Speaking of energy storage, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bananarama, ahem Bainimarama, announced his country's investment in a new technology that uses the "excess energy stored outside the battery in your cell phone" to recharge the batteries of the cell phone. I believe it uses Multi-Access Generative Integrated Congruence for that, or M.A.G.I.C. for short.

π The MIT football team, "Engineers" because "Nerds" is a registered candy trademark, are as of last week 3-and-8; the allegedly professional football foosball team known as the San Francisco 49ers are 1-and-10, the 10 losses having been in a row.  The 49ers have a 12 million dollar a year quarterback; the Nerds have a quarterback that has to keep a B+ or better average in one of the most academically strict schools in the world. I'm not an expert on sports or anything, so is 10 losses in a row good or bad?

π This week's example of "if you want to help the cause, join the other side" comes from the Daily Kos, where apparently their illustrators know less about zoo-geography than my 6-year-old nephew after watching Happy Feet:

I've been told it's a photoshopped photo, but that's nothing compared to the small difference between the North and South poles. Penguins live close to the South pole; polar bears and seals live close to the North pole. Little kids know this; the Daily Kos apparently doesn't.

## Friday, December 2, 2016

### Res Ipsa Loquitur

The thing speaks for itself.

Words to live by when making illustrations; words that are mostly ignored by most people. But since I had a free evening (social engagements in this cold? No way I'm living my comfy warm home!), I decided to make a couple of figures, just to keep the skill well-honed.

First, using data from Spaceflight Now, I punch a hole through the most dramatic part of the plot of The Martian, the mutiny:

We're living in a space opera future: 13 space launches planned for December

And using a 1853 geographical survey of San Francisco, from the NOAA archives, I make fun of the San Francisco Millennium Tower, also known as the Leaning Tower of San Francisco:

If you believe that these are good communication tools, I recommend Edward Tufte's web site as a source for information design. If you don't I still recommend it.